ISSN 1556-4975

OffCourse Literary Journal

 Published by Ricardo and Isabel Nirenberg since 1998


Poems by Louis Phillips


The solar heart of Constantinople.
Where does that phrase come from?
Sleep places me inside her car.
When I awake I am in Athens.
I have never been to Greece,
Nor had my father whose own father

Had been born in Thessaloniki.  
I shd have sent my parents there,
But I did not. Add another failure
To that decades old To-Do List.
My mother rarely saw her grandsons.
I stare out my window at statues

Of strange gods, at monuments
Crumbling under casting nets
Of Destiny/Fate, Cosmic Warfare.
I am not the only creature 
Who licks the salt of old wounds.
Fragrance of past mistakes lingers
Within The  Cathedral of Atoms.

A broad expanse of hurt spreads
Across our universe,
Losing energy, entropic
Freeze lockers of ghosts
& Time machines rusting 
In parking lots. My sleeping car
Stutters into a foreign station.

Surrounded by big water,
So much of this deserted city 
Bends under Attic  heat,
Just as we all bend under weight
Of  what has happened long ago,
Our past more changeable
Now & then than the present. 

On dark water, a lone fisherman,
Like his fathers before him,
In a small skiff throws out his net,
A wide circle far from the boat,
Widening, not yet a ghost net,
Onto, into the ocean, vanishing.
The sun stalls below the horizon.

The Conductor enters my sleeping car,
The geography of dreaming:
No matter where I am
I cannot find my way back home.
The floating opera of the world
Floats by. What strange music,
What strange arias I awake to.


3 A.M.

Waiting up for my sons to return,
Breathing six packs of beer
From whatever braveries
They have set for themselves,
From whatever breweries
They have put out of business.
I watch the tiny hands
Of the bedroom clock advance,
Until, at last, I hear
The front door open.  I glance
To that side of the bed
Where my wife turns, sleeps,
Breathing in & out
Upon some farther shore.
I think: How much better it is
To turn the darkness inside out
& make it dance
Rather than to lie down in fear.



“Man, I’m buoyant. I feel about eight feet tall.”
                                   Frank Sinatra

Because the world
Bulges at the seams,
We learn ideas
Only to unlearn them.

Coming off the stage,
Frank Sinatra announces
He feels 8 feet tall.
Is it a blessing not many
Of us are ever that tall?

Frankenstein’s monster
Was taller than Sinatra,
But his height
Brought him little comfort.
Then there was the man
In a Diane Arbus photo,
Towering over his parents
Robert Wadlow, 8’ll.

In Turkey, Sul
Checks in at 8’ 2”,
The tallest living person.
We also know the story
Of Goliath & David,
How at 6 cubits
& a span he towered
Over a diminutive David,
Underscoring some moral
So easy to ignore.

My grandmother wd say
“Don’t get too big
For your britches.”
In my old age, I have grown
Too big for my britches,
But I’m not 8 feet tall,
Not by a long shot.
I am, in fact, shrinking,
Yet on the afternoon
When I watched my wife
Give birth to twin sons,
Their vocal entrances,
I was then the tallest man
In the universe.



Watching my mother
Doing the backstroke
Throughout  my childhood
Was better than watching
Esther Williams
Dropping from a trapeze,
Falling through billowing smoke
Into her own M-G-M pool
Filled with bathing beauties.
My mother’s swimming
Made the Atlantic Ocean
Of my growing up
A world of casual grace.

My old man, on the other hand,
Was a terrible swimmer,
A few awkward strokes,
Swamped by waves,
& he struggled back to the beach.
My mother cd outswim him
By at least 30,000 miles.

Today, as I near 80,
I am becoming my father,
Same pains in my left leg.
My wife swims like my mother,
While I splash the water
Mercilessly, awkwardly,
Chlorine in my mouth,
Plugs for my ears.
Pat goes 20 laps
To my 3 and a half.
I stand by the side of the pool
& try to remember
The sound of my parents’ voices.



Life takes up so much of our lives,
Children & mortgages,
Envelopes marked Occupant.
The mortal world falls heavily

Upon the shoulders  of the living.
Just because you need money,
It does not mean
you're going to win the lottery.

I stand upon the roof of the world,
But I see nothing. I see nothing
Because I am looking
Thru my dead son’s eyes,

The rush of breathing
Disturbing grief.
I wd have gotten
This poem to you sooner,

But this is the first chance I have had.



Every time we draw a breath.



The heavy door of Existence
Swings on its hinges
(You’d think they’d be rusty by now)
Scraping on bodies & souls
Rasp rasp rasp.
Do I go in or do I go out?


Louis Phillips has previously published poems in Offcourse & numerous other literary publications. Pleasure Boat Studio published his new & selected poems in 2 volumes in 2015 and 2017.

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